We are now on the homeward haul and for the last two days plan to have one night stays at campsites as we edge Northward. Mike had done some research on a particularly picturesque route through Bavaria prior to our trip and we decided that we would visit a couple of towns on our way back through Germany. Our plans tend to be decided by availability of campsites so we skipped Ausburg and drove through some lovely villages through rolling hills to Rothenburg, which was a super example of a medieval town with city walls and lookout towers dotted around the walls. We explored the cobbled streets and looked inside the Christmas shop which had some very expensive woodcut Christmas mobiles that were being bought and shipped off tax free to the USA by delighted customers.

After lunch in the van we drove further along the route to Würtsburg which was a far bigger city and then had the challenge of finding somewhere to park. We found a side street by some shops and then took the bikes and the satnav making sure we took careful note of our route so we could find our way back to the van.

Würtsburg had a huge Rezidence which we viewed from the outside. It was a magnificent palace full of treasures but would have needed a good three hours to explore. The formal rose gardens were open and we enjoyed looking at the flowers. It had been much cooler after the 40C high of the weekend but the temperature was starting to rise again.

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We wandered into the town and looked at the various churches and the castle on the hill. We had the most wonderful ginger ice cream and watched the late afternoon shoppers, then returned successfully to the van and went off to do our final food shop. We drove out along the river Main to the next campsite at Frickenhausen and managed to get a pitch for the night.

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Today we had a long drive to Maastricht and hoped to just stop over night by the roadside. We arrived much earlier than we anticipated and after a dash to buy a map from the tourist office we were directed to a lorry overnight parking area. It was horrible, so after further inspection of the map I spotted a campsite out of town and we are now in a bustling Butlins like Dutch family camp that squeezed us in. It has been super to have a dip in the pool and sit and enjoy our last evening in the sun in comfort with water, power and showers and not be in a car park. Tonight the children here have been entertained by a Punch and Judy show and now the older ones are running around screaming. Must be a treasure hunt going on.

Tomorrow we head for Calais and have an evening tunnel crossing, so we hope we can get on an earlier train and get home and back to the family. It has been a wonderful holiday with so many countries, maps, castles, lakes, rivers, campsites, churches, museums, walks, bike rides and new experiences. Highly recommended.

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We found the campsite right on the edge of town. It was parallel to the Groß Strauße and opposite a huge exhibition complex. We thought the wide street was just a vast parking area and it was only as we ventured out on bikes that and started to read the signs around the area that we discovered that our camp site was built in the heart of Hitlers empire. All around us we discovered huge derelict buildings that were erected at the height of the power of the Nationalist Social Party. Nürnberg was chosen as the focal point for mass gatherings in huge arenas and here Hitler would create the films and commission photographs that depicted him as the high priest of his despicable regime.

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I knew that shortly after the war that Nürnberg was where the war crime trials were held but knew nothing of the citadel that was built by the forced labour of the political prisoners and others in concentration camps. We had a very rudimentary map of the city and headed for the Old Town. It has a central platz with an information centre where we got a better map and started to explore the cobbled streets.

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We walked around the walls of the medieval Kaiserburg and had a magnificent view of the steeples red tiled steep roofs below us. We got a bit lost cycling back as it was growing dark and maps are only helpful if you know where you are on them. Nürnberg has excellent cycle paths that took us through parks and beside lakes and back to the campsite.

Next morning we planned to explore the city and take a guided tour of the old town. On our way in we cycled over to the abandoned stadium area and then the colosseum building which we discovered had a multimedia exhibition explaining the beginnings of the Nazi rise to power and particularly focussing on the structures built in Nürnberg. The plan for the city tour got scuppered as we spent over two hours learning about the whole Nazi period. It was a brilliant exhibition and we had an audio guide which gave ‘ big picture’ and more specific information. As we left the museum we passed a train track that forms part of a memorial. Scattered on the tracks are thousands of cards and on them are the names, dob, place of death and nationality of some of the six million who were murdered by the regime. We must never forget.

We finished the day by exploring more of the old town and a tour of Albrecht Dürer’s haus. We had already seen many of the original paintings in München so it was interesting to learn more about Nürnberg’s most famous resident.

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We are now on our northern trek home and looking to maximise the last few days. We enjoyed Austria and we are now in Bavaria, Southern Germany. The drive was beautiful with rolling hills and low mountains in the distance and with the houses still decked with flowers in window boxes and lush grass everywhere. We stopped for lunch by a small lake which was heaving with local people. The temperature was around 40C so everyone has been seeking cool water and shade.

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We found a campsite on the Northern edge of Munich. It took a bit of finding as the Alan Rogers coordinates were slightly wrong. The site is basic, the type where you have to pay for electricity and showers with coins, but under mature trees that give a lot of shade. After tea we cycled towards the city about 7 km to the magnificent palace Schloss Nymphenburg and walked through the gardens and then cycled along a canal that is all part of the estate. It was still very hot and we found an excellent ice cream parlour that was doing a roaring trade.

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Today we have been in the city all day. We bought a €10 Family travel pass and caught a bus then train to Marienplatz in time for the “Coopers’ Dance’. At 11a.m. after many other bells chime out around rhe square, there is a special sequence of bells with animated figures on the clocktower of the Rathaus which play for about 15 minutes with dancing coopers and knights jousting. This was designed to cheer up the inhabitants of Münich after the first Plague where people were afraid to venture out of their homes.

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Whilst waiting we over heard a very amusing tour guide tell the story of the dancing men and decided that we would join the party if we could.This was a three hour free guide to a few places in the city centre ( the idea was that you pay a tip at the end according to what you could afford) Adam was our guide and gave great insights into the ancient and more recent history. The Nazi party was founded in München and very close by is Dachau concentration camp. We learned about the resistance to Hitler and the systematic domination of the party through the intimidation and forced labour for these who disagreed.

We learned that München has been rebuilt many times. It was destroyed by fire when houses were made of wood and crammed together, and during the end period of WW2 many of the buildings were destroyed. The city has been rebuilt using many of the original designs and stone, and the rubble that was removed is beneath the 1972 Olympic village.

München is most famous for its beer. Adam explained the history of how the monks discovered how to make beer and how the Oktoberfest got established and the special nature of the beer and that Steins are only a found in München. We finished the tour with a beer in the beer garden in the market area and a huge pretzel.

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In the afternoon we went to the Alte Pinakothek- an art museum with works by Dürer, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Rubens and Brueghel. This was a fabulous gallery and all air conditioned. There was a special exhibition of art based on Old Testament themes. My favourite was the Deluge. This evening a strong wind has been blowing dust everywhere. There have been a few drops of rain and hopefully it will cool off overnight.

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Tomorrow we head for Nuremberg and will follow the Romantic Road on our way North. Just looking up possible campsites on route.

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We decided to drive off motorway to our next stop: Salzburg. The route took us through a corner of Germany and then back into Austria. The satnav was brilliant at getting us to the campsite we found on the Northern edge of the city. We arrived mid afternoon and were delighted to discover it had a pool. We amassed the various maps and information and planned our next two days.

The evening was spent cycling 7km along a stream then on a very busy cycle path alongside the Salzer river right into the city centre. Salzburg is a small city with a fast flowing river running through. There is only one boat on the river and this is a specially designed tour boat that has jet engines and a shallow keel able to manoeuvre the challenging waters (We learned this on our short cruise the next day)

Salzburg has a music festival running through the summer months. There is a huge Festival hall, an outside concert space and numerous theatres. We walked around the gardens and got a sense of the place. The castle dominates the view as it is situated on a small promontory of rock high above the domes and spires of the old town. It looked as if it was flood lit in the evening sun as the walls are white and radiate against the evening sky.

Next morning we were up early armed with a Salzburg Card which cost €26 and gave us free access for 24 hours to a really big range of attractions and the bus route. We started off by travelling 40 minutes outside the city to a cable car that would take us up 1853m to the the summit of the Untersberg. There were some magnificent views and many people were kitted up with boots and walking poles to hike from there. We lingered for a coffee and enjoyed the cool air then descended and got back on the bus and stopped off at the base of the castle. We took the funicular up the steep walls and found a shady spot to have lunch in the Hohensalzburg fortress. We spent ten minutes in the marionette museum then went off to find the two modern art museums.The city was very crowded so we avoided the Mozart and Haydn venues as queuing in the heat is not ideal. Finally we finished the day on the river cruise before the bus back to camp and a dip in the pool. The temperature is in the low 30s but rising this weekend to 39. Tomorrow Munich.

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After two very hot days we are now heading North through the GroßGlockner Hochalpenstraße pass.This was a steeper climb than Gotthard pass and Mike was very keen to get started. The views were amazing and soon the houses began to look like alpine lodges. We seemed to travel through several ranges of mountains and mostly through climbing up long hairpin bends. The satnav was getting quite confused and kept telling us to ‘turn around where possible’.
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This pass cost €33 and is only open for half the year. We also had a buy a vignette as we crossed the border into Austria. The drive took us about six hours as we kept pulling over where safe to look at the scenery and take photos. It was really strange to look above you and see cars zig zagging overhead. There were lots of motorcyclists enjoying the bends and also quite a few sports cars as well as holiday makers like us.
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It was a spectacular experience and at the top the view was so different as we were above the tree line and there were swathes of deep snow stark against the dark grey rock. The road is narrow in places but the beds give lots of room as coaches can take the pass so I mostly felt safe. Going downhill got my heart racing as I could smell the brake dust and just hope that the van would perform. Mike assured me that the van was new and had a big engine so I just looked up and not down and drank it all in.
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We found an excellent campsite in Brucke with lots of facilities and very modern washrooms. It also has lots of sporting opportunities so is ideal for families with loads to do on site as well as trips to be made to mountains and lakes nearby. We cycled around Zell am See in the morning. It is a like a jewel with panoramic views of the mountains. As we cycled round we discovered little beaches and saw people windsurfing, rowing and enjoying the touring boat.

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In the afternoon we dug out our tennis rackets and had a couple of sets of tennis in the boiling sun. Mike beat me fair and square despite suffering from a funny tummy. He is taking some out of date meds that I had left over from a trip to Zambia two years ago. I am sure that they will do good more than harm! Early evening the weather changed dramatically. Dark clouds gathered over the surrounding mountains and the wind picked up. Soon we had a full scale thunder storm and then heavy rain. Glad I am not in a tent.

We abandoned the idea of Croatia as it was too far and we are now beginning our homeward return journey. The compromise was to have a day at the beach on the Adriatic coast for my benefit as I love swimming in the sea. We chose a campsite about three hours from Venice in the ancient Roman town of Aquielia. It was 10km away from the holiday resort of Grada which was a strip of beach along another lagoon. Aquileia didn’t seem to have much of a centre. There are lots of areas with remnants of Roman colonnades scattered around. It looked to me like a half built Lego construction, and is clearly still being slowly uncovered and renovated and is not yet available to the public. There was also an archeological museum and I imagine that lots of schools visit. We took the bikes to find somewhere to eat as we had no food and on Sundays all shops are closed. We eventually decided on a hotel next to the basilica. It had a banqueting hall that was very noisy with the orchestra and singers who were performing a Verdi opera in the open just outside the church. They had a rest day and we heard the Monday performance from the campsite.

It was very hot and we enjoyed a swim in the camp pool. The site was perfect, small and friendly and we made friends with a lovely Dutch couple who knew the area and offered advice about shopping and the beach. Parking a campervan can be a challenge. We were told that there was a specific place and we eventually found it but it was a long way from the recommended beach. We paid the €12 in the machine and then discovered the fee was for overnight and all the facilities; there was free parking across the street. Too late. We walked through to the beach carrying our beach umbrella which was essential. There was a very narrow area of public beach that was crammed with people. It is impossible to walk ochre he sand without shoes as your feet get burned. We tried to find a pitch create some shade. Our £5 Tesco chairs were perfect. Another consideration is security. You always think about whether to keep passports, phones, wallets and keys with you. Bit of a problem when you plan to swim. We took keys and phones which are our cameras and left them whilst we waded out to sea.

This was our first experience of sea and I imagined that it would be hot sand then a deep shelf and choppy waves just as I had experienced in the Med. This beach had some similarities to a British beach in that it was tidal, and shallow for a long long way but was calm and very warm- just perfect for children.In fact it looked in places like people were walking on water as they came up on a sandbank. The water was clear and full of fish and eventually we got waist deep where we could swim. You didn’t really need to swim as the salt levels were so high that floating was easy. By the time you walked back to your towel you were almost dry and so hot that you needed another dip. We drank all the water and needed to find food. After a fruitless walk through the holiday apartments we realised that all shops close from 12-3p.m. So we returned to the van and managed to find something to rustle up and replenish the water bottles.

We then did a two day shop at a Spar and returned to cook and relax and try to cool down. I think I missed a bit with the sun cream – ouch! During the evening we Mike logged onto the Internet so he could research our next stop which was turning north and heading up to 2500 km through a mountain pass into Austria then on to Zell am See and cooler evenings.

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We decided that the best way to visit the famous landmarks in Venice would be to try to get there as early as possible in the day to benefit from the cooler weather and avoid too much queuing. We caught the 9 a.m. boat across the lagoon, and found that the weather was even hotter than the day before as the breeze and clouds had gone. By the time we wended our way carefully following the street map along canals, through passage ways and across tiny bridges to St Marks Square the place was full of people. It’s difficult to keep a sense of direction as you walk from one place to another as the myriad of small streets intersect and twist and bend often leading to dead ends. It was Saturday and a grand fireworks bonanza was planned for the evening so we sensed that locals were gathering as well as tourists. I had a couple of scares when I lost sight of Mike momentarily in the crowd as swarms of people were moving around, groups with tour guides and family units all shifting position to get a view of the basilica with their cameras clicking away; you can easily lose your bearings.

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We decided to go inside The basilica de S. Marco. Having queued for some time we then had to deposit bags somewhere else, return and I had to buy a scarf to cover my shoulders. Entry was free, there was a request for silence and no photographs allowed. The decoration within and without the building is overwhelming. It is ornate and crammed with imagery and without the means to sit and stop and absorb you get a sensory overload. The building is dark and and was full of people shuffling and whispering and trying to take in the orgy of decorative arts. Virtually every surface has colour or pattern. The floors had a vast array of mosaic designs, the walls are made from slabs of dark coloured marble and as you raised your eyes to the ceilings then you see magnificent pictorial mosaics of the patriarchs depicted on the domes shimmering with gold leaf. We payed to view the small room of treasures and saw some very ancient alabaster jars encrusted in precious jewels and other artefacts made from crystal and gold filigree as well as some gruesome relics of saints and venerated objects enclosed in golden casks. It would have helped to have some explanations about the history of the murals but there were no information panels inside and we’d left our guide book in our rucksack. The Byzantium influence is very obvious and the imagery and art from Constantinople the most beautiful. We read that the decoration and treasures were financed by a tax of sorts that all foreign visitors and traders had to pay on their entry to the port.

I can see the original desire of the patrons and architects to pay homage to God. This is manifest through the devotion to the gospel and deference to the Saints. The murals depict bible stories and honour bible characters and this church is dedicated to St Mark. You can see that stone masons would have given their whole career working on the basilica. The skilled craftsmen designing the interiors would have worked for years with the most costly of materials to produce articles to express worship. Patronage of the arts has changed through the years, but the value of the treasures and the artwork inside St Marks must be in the millions. The external structure is also laden with marble and fine stone carvings and more gold leaf on every sculpture and arch. It is difficult to think that this is a still a place of worship as it is so full of tourists, but we did see one side chapel where a service was being conducted.

In the afternoon we caught the water taxi and went away from the crowds and spent the whole afternoon exploring modern art from different nations all housed in an art park in the Giardini area. This is a permanent art space with biannual exhibits in two areas. We paid €25 a ticket but it was only for a single entry, so footsore and parched we took in as much as we could. There were some very interesting and thought provoking exhibitions, and others that were a bit weird and difficult to respond to. I have added a few of my favourite photos. I took some video too of some film installations to just capture a flavour to remember in the future. I found that the artists who had explained their ideas a lot more accessible.

We missed the ferry back as the boats were so full so wandered around for another hour before returning to a very lively camp site full of 18- 30s who don’t seem to sleep. The evening eventually got quiet when the hour long firework display was over.I think we are going to Croatia next to find some sea and sun.

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